Recent advances in antiviral treatment have led to the development of more effective medicines. New medications that cure people of hepatitis C infection are now subsidised in Australia.
Treatment for most people is now daily tablets. Treatment can be from 8-24 weeks, with most people undergoing treatment for 8-12 weeks. A small number of people will require injections as well as the tablets. A blood test 12 weeks after treatment concludes will indicate whether the virus has been cured. Following successful treatment, a person will remain antibody positive but will no longer be infectious or infected. Treatment does not lead to immunity and reinfection following successful treatment can occur if risk factors remain unaddressed.
These new medications are highly effective, with a cure rate greater than 90 per cent. Unlike previous treatments for hep C, these new medicines are well tolerated and have fewer side effects.
The new treatments are being made available for all patients over 18 years in Australia with a chronic hepatitis C infection who hold a Medicare card. People do not have to be feeling sick or have significant liver damage to begin treatment. There will also be no restrictions applied for people who inject drugs who are a priority population for hepatitis C treatment.
It is usually a state and territory responsibility to fund the health care of people in custodial settings; however, the Australian Government has agreed to fund these treatments for prisoners.
People who wish be treated for hepatitis C will need a prescription. General practitioners (GPs) will be able to prescribe these medicines in consultation with a specialist physician. Specialists will also be able to prescribe these medicines. People should speak with a doctor to access treatment and develop a care plan.
The names of the new medicines are:
• Harvoni® (Sofosbuvir and ledipasvir)
• Sovaldi® (Sofosbuvir)
• Daklinza® (Daclatasvir)
• Ibavyr® (Ribavirin)
• Viekira Pak® (Paritaprevir and ritonavir and ambitasvir and dasabuvir)
• Viekira Pak RBV® (As above and ribavirin)
• Zepatier® (Grazoprevir and elbasvir)
From 1 March 2016 the new hepatitis C medicines are subsidised on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). This means that formerly very expensive therapies will now cost either $38.30 for general patients or $6.20 for concessional patients.
Hepatitis C virus
Hepatitis C is an infectious blood borne disease that damages the liver. In many cases it leads to liver scarring (cirrhosis and fibrosis), it can also lead to end-stage liver disease. Liver transplants in Australia are mostly due to viral hepatitis destroying the liver. Significant liver damage from viral hepatitis can lead to complications such as heart failure and osteoporosis and more frequently, liver cancer. The fastest growing cause of cancer death in Australia is viral hepatitis.
A person can have hepatitis C and not know it. There are often no obvious symptoms. A simple blood test can detect hepatitis C.
For up to date information about hepatitis C treatments:
• Call in to see us at 36 David St, in Turner, ACT.
• We are happy to respond to emails to info(at)hepatitisACT.com.au
• Talk to your GP, or
• Call the National Hepatitis Info Line on 1800 437 222.